Will the Huskies lose two in a row for the first time since 2015? There is certainly a lot going against the Huskies in this one. Arizona is surging and Khalil Tate is looking better than ever. They can run the ball, but when that isn’t working Tate has shown the ability to throw all over the field. Outside of Tate they don’t have a singular offensive weapon that should really scare the Huskies, especially with J.J. Taylor’s health status in question. But, they are deep and every receiver or running back in the rotation is capable of doing damage.
Against a Husky front seven that has been vulnerable against the run - 81st nationally in yards per rush allowed against an Arizona team that ranks 12th in yards per rush - I don’t like the match up. That said, this is by far the best defense Arizona has faced all season. I expect UW’s linebackers to struggle containing Khalil Tate and keeping him in the pocket. If there’s a game where we finally need Levi Onwuzurike to take over up front, this is it. He’s starting to wake up as the season goes on, but I think we’re still waiting for him to really wreak havoc.
On the other side of the ball, the Husky offense is broken until proven otherwise. We’ve seen it now going on two plus seasons that against any team with a pulse, especially on the road, this team struggles to score. Thankfully field goal kicker Peyton Henry has stepped his game up and can be reliably counted on the red zone to give the Dawgs 3 points. Arizona is allowing 477 yards per game and ranks 59th in pass efficiency defense. They’re 55th against the run, so fairly average on defense. But average defense usually makes the Husky offense fall apart. All indications from the coaches are that they’d like to lean more on the run which is probably a smart idea, even without Richard Newton. Salvon Ahmed and Sean McGrew should be able to give enough production to keep Arizona honest. I would also like to see Chico McClatcher move up in the pecking order and get more opportunities in the pass game. This offense lacks play making but Chico is a guy that can make people miss and gain chunk yardage. Unless guys like Ahmed and Bryant take over and have huge games, with Aaron Fuller being a reliable and complimentary piece, I can’t see the offense having much success.
At this point in the season, I don’t have much faith in the offense, or the defense to do enough to stymie Khalil Tate when it matters. The desert curse continues.
Washington- 20, Arizona- 24
This feels to me kind of like the BYU game but with a better offense and less predictable pass rush. Overall, Arizona’s defense has gone from butt ugly a couple years ago to at least showing signs of life, so I don’t think the Dawgs will be able to go straight through them -- although who really thinks they’d be able to after last week, anyway?
On offense, Petersen and Hamdan really have to get out of the habit of short screens etc, given that Arizona’s linebackers’ lateral speed and ease tackling diminutive ball-carriers plays exactly into that. On the other side, however, they are more vulnerable to runs between the tackles and have difficulty with powerful runners. Given that Newton’s out, this could be statistically significant for Cade Otton and Hunter Bryant. Furthermore, Arizona actual still plays some non-nickel defense particularly when opponents put out two tight ends, so those two could also be worthwhile decoys to create mismatches for receivers and Salvon Ahmed against a 4-3 or 3-4, something they don’t get to do too often.
My biggest concern for Washington defensively is Arizona’s stable of running backs combined with Khalil Tate, who will certainly have a spy on him. Unfortunately, that spy will likely be either one of the athletically mega-mismatched linebackers or, alternatively, could be a DB in a dime set, who we’d rather use as, ya know, an actual DB. On the plus side, Tate can be a bit careless with chucking the ball downfield and he carries it _very_ loose when he runs, so there should be at least more opportunities for turnovers than against Stanford.
Overall, probably a few chunk plays by Arizona and some frustrating moments for the Dawgs since Arizona is Spooksville, USA, but the Wildcats are still a team that only scored 20 against UCLA. While they _can_ be good at times, they’re a Sumlin-coached team in their inconsistency.
This could be either a nice bounceback game for the Huskies _or_ a spooky stress fest a la 2016. I’ll go with somewhere in between:
Washington- 31, Arizona- 21
There are a few simple facts that make this game scary for the Huskies. The first and most obvious factor is UW’s history in the state of Arizona. Even when UW has looked significantly better on paper, both the Wildcats and Sun Devils have made things incredibly difficult. The second is Arizona’s run game. With Khalil Tate back in the lineup next to J.J. Taylor and Gary Brightwell, Arizona leads the Pac-12 in yards per carry and totals over 200 yards per game. As we all know at this point, UW does not have an elite run defense (or even an acceptable one). The third fact is the general feeling of malaise after the Stanford loss. Playing another late game just feels frightening at the moment.
In addition to these obvious factors, there are some statistical oddities that make Arizona hard to predict. To wit: every Pac-12 defense has faced an average of 30.0-35.5 pass attempts per game, except Arizona, who has faced 47.4 (34% higher than any other team!). Some of that has to do with pass-heavy opponents on their early schedule, including Hawaii, Northern Arizona, and Texas Tech. Likewise, Arizona leads the conference in interceptions, including three each from Jace Whittaker and Lorenzo Burns (a lot of that has to do with the huge number of pass attempts they have faced). You would expect a team with that profile to have a great pass rush, but Arizona only has four sacks on the year. Colin Schooler will make plays near the line of scrimmage, but the defense otherwise tends to sit back.
Despite the huge volume of passes, the way to attack Arizona’s defense might actually be in the run game, where they are fourth worst in the Pac in Y/C against. If you can get past the strange play distribution, the overall character of the defense is favorable to the Huskies. They play a conservative pass defense that doesn’t get a great deal of pressure. Think back to how great Jacob Eason looked against a similar profile in the BYU game. Aaron Fuller and Andre Baccellia should have more time to get free, which should lead to a return of the deep pass. The loss of Richard Newton will hurt, but Sean McGrew has proven that he can be a solid runner to complement Salvon Ahmed. Newton became the answer to some of UW’s red zone questions. Will Kamari Pleasant step into that role? Will McGrew get more short yardage attempts? Will we see the Wildcat with a different lead back? A more balanced attack should be able to score points on Arizona. I remain optimistic that UW will score enough to pull out a tough game.
Washington- 35, Arizona- 28
See Khalil run. See Khalil throw. See Arizona score on the Washington defense... Washington is really going to have its hands full this week. Arizona QB Khalil Tate just had the best passing game of his career last week against Colorado by throwing for 404 yards. Additionally, he also has two 100-yard rushing games this season. The Huskies just struggled against a somewhat mobile QB in Stanford’s Davis Mills, who is not in the same league as Tate (technically, he actually is). Additionally, Washington gave up 151 rushing yards to Stanford’s Cameron Scarlett last week. Meanwhile, Arizona brings the talented backfield of Gary Brightwell and J.J. Taylor into the mix. Brightwell is more of a power back, while Taylor can gash you for big gains and excels at evading tackles, something the Huskies have struggled with this season. It is worth noting that Washington will certainly be the best defense Arizona has seen so far this season.
Meanwhile, Arizona’s defense has not been keeping many opposing coaches awake at night. While Arizona has actually been solid defending the run, their secondary is very vulnerable to the tune of 336 passing yards allowed per game. Pair that with a Pac-12 low 4-sacks, and Jacob Eason and the Washington passing game will have a great chance to flex their muscles and put up some real points. It’s one thing to say that though, and another to actually execute. Washington’s passing game performed horribly on the road last week against a much-maligned Stanford secondary. Meanwhile, I haven’t even mentioned yet how rarely Washington actually wins in the state of Arizona. That would be once since 2006. But we’ve all already heard that talking point 1,000 times this week.
This is the most concerned I’ve been heading into a game this season, and the team has already lost two conference games. Washington is surely the more talented of the two teams, but as we’ve seen, that doesn’t always amount to a win. All that said, I’m going to go with my gut and let my inner Husky fan get the best of me here and predict a close game that the Huskies eke out. I think we’ll end up finding ourselves trusting in the foot of kicker Peyton Henry, who is a perfect 11/11 on his field goal attempts this season.
Washington- 27, Arizona- 24
The trends are definitely not in Washington’s favor in this one. Chris Fallica noted this week that the Huskies are just 2-5 in their last 7 conference road games as a favorite which makes a lot of sense given their recent history. That’s before you think about road games in the state of Arizona in general. The Dawgs have won just one road game against either Arizona or Arizona State since 2007 and that game went to OT between a Husky team that made the CFB Playoff and an Arizona squad that went 3-9.
Well since the last decade of history goes against Washington at least they have been the better team of late... Wait. Oh yeah, the Huskies got their brains beat in as a two touchdown favorite in Palo Alto. I have just spent the last 5 days trying to purge the images from my brain. Well at least Arizona’s been struggling... Wait. They haven’t lost since Khalil Tate came up one yard short in Hawai’i in Week 0.
Speaking of Khalil Tate, he appears to be the nightmare QB for this incarnation of the Washington defense. The Dawgs have struggled to contain running QBs with their suspect linebacker play and have especially had trouble containing the run in general. With Tate and J.J Taylor at the helm for the Wildcats this appears to be an offense well positioned to move the ball at will against the Dawgs between the 20’s. Washington’s hope will be that the defense will be able to hold strong in the red zone like they did on Stanford’s first 2 drives before they got worn down by the lopsided time of possession.
Despite all of that, there’s a reason the Huskies are still favored in this game. They are a more talented team than Arizona. Whether you think Washington pulls this one out depends on if you think they’re thoroughly pissed off and motivated following the Stanford game. A loss in the desert means needing to upset a top-ten Oregon team at home to avoid falling to .500 on the season. A win and the team can say they still have a chance to accomplish all their season goals as long as you weren’t crazy enough to think this team was actually going to the CFB Playoff.
Last week I had a bad feeling about the game but there was no way I could reasonably pick against Washington given Stanford’s previous results. This week I also have a bad feeling about this game and I don’t know how you could pick against Arizona (at least against the spread) given each team’s recent previous results. Man I hope I’m wrong.
Washington- 23, Arizona- 27
THE FINAL TALLY
Straight Up: Washington- 3, Arizona- 2
Against the Spread (UW -5.5): Washington- 2, Arizona- 3
Average Score: Washington- 27.2, Arizona- 24.8